RIP Keith Jackson

Keith Jackson died last weekend at the age of 89. If you are a fan of college football and if you are over the age of 25, you must know that he was an icon of the sport as the play-by-play announcer for many of the major college football games of the latter part of the 20th century. He began his career in 1952; he retired – for the second time – after the 2005 season by calling the Texas/USC Rose Bowl game that gave Vince Young and that Texas team the national championship.

Keith Jackson was also the first play-by-play announcer on Monday Night Football before Frank Gifford took that gig.  Jackson also did some basketball broadcasting and the Olympics; but college football was where he was most recognized.  He coined the phrase “The Big House” for Michigan’s stadium and “The Big Uglies” for offensive line units.  However, the best way to remember Keith Jackson is simply to intone:

“Whoa, Nellie!”

Rest in peace, Keith Jackson.

All sports fans love championships and championship games.  However, it is commonplace for the best time of a season to be just prior to the championship event itself.  In March Madness, the Final Four Weekend is great – – but truth be told, I think the weekend where the Sweet 16 cuts down to the final Four is even better.  The games that weekend are good; the teams playing on that weekend are good; there are 12 games not just a handful; that is a great weekend of sports for fans.

The NFL playoffs are similarly constructed.  I do not mean to denigrate any of the playoffs at all; but for me, the best weekend is the Divisional Round.  There are 4 games to be seen and the 4 games almost always involve the best teams from the previous season.  It is not like Super Bowl weekend where there is only 1 game; this weekend gives fans a 4-game smorgasbord.

Last weekend’s NFL Divisional round was a great weekend to watch football.  Take your rooting interests out of the equation and what you saw were 3 interesting/exciting games and 1 game that was not particularly riveting but was instructive.  Let me go through the menu:

  • Eagles 15 Falcons 10:  This game was a win for the Eagles’ defense.  They held a very good Falcons’ offense to 10 points and made the big plays when they needed to be made.  Nick Foles was quietly efficient gaining 8.2 yards per pass attempt and not throwing any INTs.  The Eagles’ offense deserves praise for that efficiency and lack of shooting itself in the foot, but do not get carried away and say that the Eagles’ offense “carried the day”.  I don’t know if the Eagles’ defensive strategy was to nullify Devonta Freeman, but they certainly did just that.  Freeman carried the ball 10 times for 7 yards and his long gain for the day was a 3-yard carry.  The game outcome was in doubt from start to finish.  Falcons’ fans and Falcons’ backers at the betting window may hate the outcome, but the game was a good one.
  • Patriots 35 Titans 14:  After the Titans took a 7-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, the Patriots shifted out of neutral and put their offense into overdrive.  By the middle of the 4th quarter, the score was 35-7 and everything was on cruise control.  The Titans had to have had a defensive game plan, but it cannot have been to “neutralize Danny Amendola”.  Tom Brady and Amendola connected on 11 completions for 112 yards.  When you add in Rob Gronkowski’s 6 catches for 81 yards and a TD, this was a passing clinic put on by the Patriots.  The Pats converted 11 of 17 third-down situations and sacked Titans’ QB, Marcus Mariota, 8 times.  This was not a nail-biter of a game, but it was instructive to watch.
  • Jags 45 Steelers 42:  This was the shocker of the weekend.  The Jags scored all of 10 points last week against the Bills and were all- out to do that.  Here they marched up and down the field and made defensive plays to set up or score 14 points and they kicked the Steelers to the curb.  Leonard Fournette is the real deal folks; you ignore him or minimize your concern about him at your own peril.  People talk about the defensive line for the Jags and its moniker of “Sacksonville”; frankly, I am much more impressed with their two cornerbacks, Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye.  There was one aspect of this game that I did not like.  There was far too much posturing and posing by both teams after routine plays; I think the officials could have been much more assertive to put a lid on that nonsense.
  • Vikes 29 Saints 24:  You almost had to see this game to believe it.  The Vikes dominated the first half and the Saints could hardly get out of their own way.  In the second half, Drew Brees played like the Hall of Fame QB he is sure to be, and the Saints led 24-23 with less than a minute to play.  That set up a final play 61-yard TD pass from Case Keenum to Stefan Diggs that you just have to see for yourself on the Internet if you did not see it live on TV.  It is beyond my expository skills to do it justice.

The early lines for next week’s Championship Round games are already up.  The Vikes are road favorites by 3.5 points over the Eagles with a Total Line of only 38 points.  Meanwhile, the Pats are 9-point favorites at home over the Jags with a Total Line of 46 points.  In the NFC, it is interesting to look at the QBs still in action.

  • Case Keenum and Nick Foles are “journeymen” and “backups” and fill-ins” in the parlance of NFL QBs.  Neither is considered anywhere near “elite”.  Nonetheless they are the two left standing in the NFC.
  • Drew Brees is a future Hall of Fame QB.  He and his team are home watching on TV.
  • Matt Ryan and Cam Newton are previous NFL MVP winners.  They and their teams are out.
  • Jared Goff was an overall #1 pick in a recent NFL Draft.  He and his team are looking ahead to next year.

Finally, Keith Jackson’s calls were always associated with college football bowl games that mattered; he did not do any of the games played before Christmas.  In that light, here is a commentary on the myriad college bowl games that exist today from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“There’s a term for people who watch all 40 or so bowls every year. That term is ‘divorced’.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………